Residents reeling from fire which damaged 4 houses in East Coast Road: 'Everyone is traumatised'

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Shermaine Ang and Yong Li Xuan
The Straits Times
January 10, 2023

Mr Christopher Pang was leaving home for supper with his friend on Monday night when he saw a bright orange glow at the second storey of a house two doors away.

He soon realised the house was on fire, and the flames were spreading fast.

He told his friend to wake his two teenage sons, mother-in-law and other residents, then ran to the burning house and called on the elderly brother-sister pair inside to stop packing their valuables and unlock their gate.

Together with another neighbour, they tried to douse the fire with garden hoses for about five minutes before the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) arrived.

“I was just focused on putting out the fire, first and foremost, to prevent injuries,” he said.

The blaze spread to three other homes, including Mr Pang’s house at 12S East Coast Road. It raged on for two hours before it was extinguished by SCDF firefighters.

Looking on as the flames crept towards his house, Mr Pang said he felt helpless.

His son Michael said he went to bed at about 11pm and was awakened by the acrid smell of smoke.

The 18-year-old woke his younger brother and maternal grandmother, who was visiting from Penang, and got them out of the house safely.

His paternal grandparents, mother and elder brother, who also live in the house, were not around at the time – his mother is overseas and his brother is serving national service. His paternal grandparents returned from work at their Western food coffee-shop stall at about 1am, after the road was closed off.

Michael said he heard explosions and loud crashes as he evacuated his family and gathered valuables such as his laptop and mobile phone.

“I looked up and the ceiling was red,” he said, recounting how the flames had engulfed the top floor of the 2½-storey house.

Mr Pang, a real estate agent in his 40s, said he expects repairs to take about nine months because the structure of the house was badly damaged, as part of the second-storey ceiling had collapsed.

The family, who has lived in the house for 13 years, is staying at the nearby Village Hotel Katong for the time being.

“Everyone is traumatised. It is something that no one should experience,” Michael said. “No one should ever lose their home. It is like an animal losing its habitat.”

He said he lost most of his belongings, including thrift-shop vintage clothing, several pairs of shoes and a gaming desktop PC, which amounted to thousands of dollars.

“I worked so hard to buy all that, and all the hard work was gone in minutes,” said Michael, who has worked part-time in the food and beverage industry since he was 16.

The fire raged on for two hours before it was extinguished by SCDF firefighters. PHOTO: ST READER

Mr Pang said the master bedroom wardrobe had $1,500 in new notes that had just been withdrawn for Chinese New Year red packets, his marriage certificate and photo albums, which were all burned to a crisp.

Other items that were lost included his wife’s watches and gold jewellery, diamond necklaces and a diamond ring passed down from her mother, a few thousand dollars in United States currency, a leather sofa and paintings. He estimates the loss to be about $200,000.

He also has about 100 bottles of spirits and wines, which may go bad if they are not stored at the right temperature, since the house’s wiring was damaged in the fire.

Michael and his 13-year-old brother missed school on Tuesday as they did not sleep that night. The second-year polytechnic student’s laptop and hard drive with all his school materials were damaged, while his younger brother’s laptop was lost in the fire.

“I have a lot of assignments coming soon, but my laptop and hard drive are not working. It is very worrying,” Michael said.

When The Straits Times arrived at the scene at 9am, a fire engine was there and SCDF officers were conducting investigations, and residents could be seen moving their belongings out of their homes.

When The Straits Times arrived at the scene at 9am, a fire engine was there and SCDF officers were conducting investigations. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Residents were seen moving their belongings out of their homes. PHOTO: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS

The roofs of three houses were destroyed, leaving only piles of rubble where the top floors had been.

An elderly woman – who had difficulty walking and had bandages on her face and hand – and her brother were seen assisting SCDF with investigations. ST understands they live in one of the affected homes.

The pair declined to comment.

About 20 residents were evacuated from the row of terrace houses, and one person was taken to Singapore General Hospital with minor burn injuries.

SCDF said it was alerted to a fire at 12S East Coast Road at about 11.50pm on Monday.

It added that it used a combined platform ladder for aerial firefighting as well as six water jets at the height of the operation. Two fire engines were deployed.

[Final Update - Fire @ No.12S East Coast Road] At about 11:50 p.m. (9 Jan), SCDF was alerted to a fire at the...

Posted by Singapore Civil Defence Force on Monday, January 9, 2023

The fire was extinguished at about 1.50am, with four terrace houses damaged.

SCDF said damping-down operations were still ongoing as at 2.40am, referring to the use of water to wet burnt surfaces to prevent a rekindling of the fire.

The cause of the fire is being investigated.

Marine Parade GRC MP Tan See Leng said in a Facebook post on Tuesday that six terrace houses were affected, four of them severely. He added that an elderly pair had slight injuries and were taken to hospital for follow-up and observation. 

The East Coast Road houses are worth some $4 million to $5 million each, according to listings on real estate portal PropertyGuru.

I was alerted to a fire at a row of terraced houses along East Coast, off the main road and on the side facing The...

Posted by Tan See Leng on Monday, January 9, 2023

A neighbour who wanted to be known only as Kim said she was awakened by the billowing smoke.

The 29-year-old said residents in the area, including from the nearby Sea View condominium, gathered outside the burning houses on Monday night.

“The fire was huge, and the explosions were so loud. I was so scared for my grandparents,” said Kim, who works as an analyst.

Another neighbour, who lives next to the affected houses, said his house was flooded and his family would not be able to return for several days.

Residents offered words of sympathy to Mr Pang as he retrieved some of his family’s belongings.

Mr Pang said he was close to his neighbours, many of whom are seniors who have lived in the neighbourhood for many years and have Christmas gatherings together.

“It is what it is, what can you do?” he said. “It could be worse. So I think, count your blessings, you still have a life.”

The Straits Times

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